I was having a conversation with a member of my life group last night. We were talking about something unrelated to this post, but in the course of that conversation I realized something. The Christian faith has been transferred from one generation to the next by the personal witness of those who have been changed by the power of the Gospel.
Within the Christian life, the testimony of a witness carries with it a different kind of weightiness. The reason I think this the case is due to the change that we see in those who are bearing witness. When someone we know is telling about what they have seen and heard we instinctively give them more trust. This is a double-edged sword to be sure, but it happens nonetheless. And we should understand how we are impacted by this in our daily journey of faith.
This could be the underlying reason I have always found the following saying to be both powerful and problematic.
The man with an experience is never at the mercy of the man with an argument.
The reason this saying is powerful is because it points to how we all recognize, almost intuitively, that our experiences form us and solidify what we know and believe. As a man, I will never understand or know what it is like to have the sensation of a child growing in a womb. I don’t have a womb. It does not matter how many times my wife describes it to me. It does not matter that I touched her belly and felt the movement myself while the child was developing. It simply was not the same experience. I cannot understand it the way she did and does. Our experiences have a powerful effect and we should never underestimate this.
However, this saying is also problematic. I used a positive and joyous example above. But, not all experiences in life are positive and wonderful. Some experiences are painful and need to be forgotten (if that were possible), so, we are better off learning to manage them. To minimize the negative effects if we can. This side of the above expression, this negative possibility, causes us to overlook or even reject arguments that are worthy of consideration. Arguments that would help us to process our experiences and move on from the. When we are not able to do mitigate the negative experiences of life we tend to get stuck and descend into dark places emotional and spiritually.
One of my favorite movies is Good Will Hunting. This film is a good example of both of these realities manifesting themselves. It tells the story of an orphan who is a mathematical genius. A professor, Professor Gerald Lambeau, takes an interest in him, trying to guide him in the right direction, but Will is having none of this. Professor Lambeau enlists the help of a former classmate, a psychologist named Dr. Sean Maguire, to help “fix” the young man. If you haven’t seen the movie I recommend it.
There is a moment in the film where Sean is sitting with Will at a park. In that scene we see the idea of how the effect of our experiences have on us played out. When we are changed, whether by good experiences or bad ones, we become less susceptible to the arguments of others. We become hardened and cold in the process of relating with others. We trust less, listen less, and fear more.
WARNING: There is some vulgar language in the scene.
The bottom line for me is this. When we have experienced the transformative power of the Gospel, we must hold fast to it. That is a good experience. However, it is more than that. Our redemption should become the experience through which we see all others. I know that not all experiences are good, but if we trust in what we have come to know in Christ, then from these experiences something good may come. The danger we all face is becoming like Will Hunting. We close ourselves off from the world and then forget how to connect with those who are genuinely trying to help us.
Our experiences may play a role in shaping us, but they are not the sum total of who we are. Learn from them and then continue living.